Kvyat tops Suzuka pratice

Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat topped the timesheets at a soaking Suzuka, clocking one minute, 48.277 seconds with Rosberg 0.023 back and reigning world champion Hamilton a further half-a-second slower.

Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on Friday.   -  Getty Images

Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg showed flashes of pace in Friday’s second free practice in Japan before heavy rain effectively washed out much of the afternoon session.

Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat topped the timesheets at a soaking Suzuka, clocking one minute, 48.277 seconds with Rosberg 0.023 back and reigning world champion Hamilton a further half-a-second slower.

The Briton, who suffered his first retirement in over a year last week in Singapore but still boasts a 41-point championship lead with six races left, said Mercedes had learned “diddly-squat” in the rain.

“That’s exactly what we learnt today,” Hamilton told reporters. “Today’s not been particularly fun and there’s not been much to learn. We learned it all in the last race here when it was raining, so not learning much, much more today.”

With memories of Frenchman Jules Bianchi’s fatal crash at a wet Suzuka last year certain to make Sunday’s race an emotional one, drivers were anxious to avoid taking any risks in the similarly treacherous conditions.

“You don’t want to take too many risks, damaging the car,” said Hamilton. “Today we were just practising starts and getting a couple of laps in -- but there wasn’t really an awful lot to learn.”

Rain had created havoc in the morning practice, when only 12 drivers completed a timed lap as they struggled to keep control of their aquaplaning cars.

Mercedes, looking to fix their mysterious loss of pace in Singapore last weekend, shot out to the quickest times in the second session, before Kvyat backed up an impressive early display by edging ahead of Rosberg.

Heart-stopping slide

But then the rain returned to send the cars back to their garages and when Hamilton finally emerged on wet tyres, he was warned over the radio “be mindful of the rivers,” so soggy were the conditions.

Daniel Ricciardo clocked the fourth-fastest time behind Hamilton with Singapore winner Sebastian Vettel steering his Ferrari to the fifth-quickest lap with team mate Kimi Raikkonen sixth.

Vettel put in a shift despite the atrocious weather, completing 19 laps, correcting a heart-stopping slide through the quick right-hander between the hairpin and Spoon as he ran fourth in the morning.

“Clearly we are not the favourites for the championship or even for this race,” said the German, who gave himself an outside chance of pinching a fifth world title by winning last week.

“It’s wrong to talk about the championship for us,” he added. “It’s still a massive gap.”

Rosberg also survived a couple of early scares in a hair-raising first practice, braking late into the chicane and sliding onto the run-off.

Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz was quickest in the first session in a time of 1:49.434, half-a-second clear of Kvyat.

Jenson Button, whose Formula One future is in doubt after talks over a contract extension with McLaren appeared to have stalled, finished 12th, over three-and-a-half seconds adrift.

Fernando Alonso had to wait for McLaren to switch his engine after Honda mechanics discovered a problem after the morning practice.

Neatly encapsulating the way his season has gone, the Spaniard cut a forlorn figure staring out into the gloom for the first 40 minutes, and eventually finished 17th.